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Your Inescapable Love: The Bennett Family, #4

Your Inescapable Love: The Bennett Family, #4

Автором Layla Hagen

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Your Inescapable Love: The Bennett Family, #4

Автором Layla Hagen

оценки:
4.5/5 (14 оценки)
Длина:
289 pages
4 hours
Издатель:
Издано:
Nov 10, 2016
ISBN:
9781533718464
Формат:
Книге

Описание

Max Bennett is a successful man. His analytical mind is an asset to his family's company.

That's how I describe myself in my professional bio, at least.

Outside the office, I shed the serious persona as fast as I can. Out-Of-Office Max is carefree and fun. I adore being an uncle, and spoiling my nieces rotten. I'm happy with my life. Mom can ask for more grandchildren all she wants, I have no plans to settle down any time soon. Or ever.

Then fate tossed Emilia Campbell back into my life.

I remembered my childhood best friend as a fun-loving goofball, but now, she's a sensual woman.

A sensual woman with a sick grandmother to care for, someone who could use my friendship more than ever. So all my questions about what could happen between us have to stay secret. I can't risk ruining the friendship, despite all my dirtiest fantasies.

She says her childhood hero-worship for me is over. I swore I wouldn't turn my panty-melting charm on her. It's exactly the kind of challenge that makes it inescapable. But once we give in to temptation, can we salvage what we had, or can we find more?

Издатель:
Издано:
Nov 10, 2016
ISBN:
9781533718464
Формат:
Книге

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Your Inescapable Love - Layla Hagen

Hagen

Chapter One

Max

Nineteen years ago

Why is there a girl in our yard? She’s just stepped through the gate and looks around, holding a backpack in her arms. Mom is in the kitchen with my brothers, and I probably should call her, but I won’t. I can take care of this. I’m nine years old.

I run to the gate, and as I get closer, I recognize her. She’s the new girl in my class at school, Emilia Campbell, who always looks like she’s going to cry. I overheard one of the teachers say her mom died before she moved here. Probably why she’s sad. No one should lose their mom.

What are you doing here? I ask her when I reach the gate.

I live two houses away, she says quickly. But I lost my key, and I can’t get in the house. I live with Grams, who is working now, and she’s usually not home until seven. I left the window to my room open, and I tried to climb in, but I couldn’t. I fell, and now my knee hurts.

Wow. I don’t know many girls who would climb through their window. My sister Alice does, but Alice is cool. I decide that Emilia Campbell is cool too.

Grams says I’m not supposed to tell anyone that I’m home alone, but I can’t get in, and I don’t know what to do. There is a storm coming, and I hate storms. I’m afraid of thunder.

You can wait inside our house, I say.

But I don’t know you. Emilia Campbell has long blonde hair. It’s almost as blonde as my sister Pippa’s, but shorter.

Yes, you do. We have class together. I am Max Bennett.

Emilia Campbell, she says.

I know. I heard the teacher call your name. You’re the new girl who doesn’t play with anyone during recess.

She looks at her boots, and those are some butt-ugly boots. Pink with even pinker hearts on it. I open my mouth, and close it again, remembering my sister Alice saying people don’t like it when I tell them their things are ugly. And Mom said I’m not supposed to say butt.

I don’t play with anyone because I don’t have any friends. 

She’s weird. How are you supposed to make friends if you don’t play with anyone? Maybe it’s a girl thing. I’ll never understand girls. A few drops of cold water fall on my face.

It’s raining. Let’s go inside my house. Momma says it’s bad to be out when it rains. We’ll get a cold.

She looks at the house behind me and then back at me. Are you sure your parents won’t be upset?

No, they let me and my brothers and sisters bring friends all the time.

She looks down at her ugly-ass boots again. But I’m not your friend.

A loud sound cracks above, and she jumps. She looks at the sky with wide eyes. Boy, she really is afraid of thunder.

You are now. I want to be your friend, Emilia Campbell. And I will protect you from the thunder.

Chapter Two

Emilia

Present Day

Please, please, please, let us have some hot rock star or actor on the list with new patients. My best friend Abby stands behind the reception desk, staring intently at her computer.

Anyone interesting? I ask her. This is one of the most sought-after physical therapy clinics in San Francisco. As such, we often work with high-profile athletes who must recover after an injury, and even the occasional celebrity. In the case of the latter, it’s nice to get a scoop beforehand, because sometimes paparazzi show up. While Abby surveys the list on her computer, I make a mental note to stop at Target on the way home and buy a box of cheese crackers for my grandmother. No matter how bad a day she’s having, they always make her happy. Because she has Alzheimer’s, most of her days are bad lately. Watching the strong woman who raised me slowly fading away is excruciating.

Nah. Abby shakes her head in disappointment. We’ve had a dry spell with celebrities lately. Just more businessmen.

I grin. Ah, yes, we also get the assorted businessmen who decide all of a sudden that their lifestyle is too sedentary and they have to incorporate training into their routine. They sometimes overdo it, which is a recipe for injury.

Look at this one, she says with a laugh. Went skydiving and screwed up the landing.

I cover my mouth with my hand. That’s not funny, Abby. He could have—

Been seriously injured, I know. But he wasn’t. I mean, he needs therapy, but his ligament injury isn’t too bad. I can’t help laughing when a hothead decides to be adventurous and then screws it up.

You’re a bad person, I say, shaking my head. Making fun of others’ misfortune.

I need to fill my free time with something. Judging and gossiping fit the bill.

Have you tried reading or cooking? I challenge her. I’ve heard they can be fun.

Nah, too much work.

Who is he?

Forgot the name. She focuses her attention on the computer again. Max Bennett. Hey, the name sounds familiar.

Max B— Are you sure? I ask, my heart suddenly doing a somersault. The name is not exactly uncommon, but still....

Yeah.

What’s his date of birth?

As Abby rattles off the date, I grin because it’s him. Two different people sharing a name and a birthday would be too big of a coincidence.  

He’s my Max. Come on, I told you about him, I admonish her when she raises an eyebrow. My neighbor when I was a kid.

Ohhhh, I remember now, Abby replies. 

He was so much more than my neighbor. He was my best friend after Mom died, and I absolutely adored him. I haven’t seen him in fifteen years, though, which is about fifteen years too long. Can you assign him to me?

Your schedule is already full.

Can you shift one of my other patients to someone else? You can do that for your best friend. I bat my eyelashes at her, certain I look absolutely ridiculous.

Fine. I’ll see how I can shift things and let you know.

Thank you. See you tomorrow.

I leave the reception area with a pep in my step. Smiling, I remember the nine-year-old boy who used to walk next to me to school as if he was my own personal bodyguard. He made it his mission to make me smile when all I wanted to do was cry because I had lost my mama. Grams and I moved to Montana when I was thirteen, and Max and I didn’t keep in touch. The boy I knew wasn’t a hothead. Sure, he had his fun, and never backed away from a challenge, but I wouldn’t have pegged him for one to skydive.

Ms. Henderson, the last patient I had today, exits the clinic at the same time I do. Her husband waits for her by his car and after kissing her cheek softly, opens the door for her. The look of awe and love in his eyes warms my heart. At the same time, it makes me aware of the unease that took residence in my chest months ago. Since I was a little girl, I wished for the kind of love the Hendersons share. But some people aren’t meant to have happy endings. My parents didn’t, and if the unused wedding dress in my closet is anything to go by, neither am I. My fiancé, Paul, canceled our wedding three weeks before D-day. That was six months ago, and part of me still can’t believe it. 

On my way home, I stop by the store and buy the cheese crackers for Grams. Suddenly, I have a burning desire to talk to Grams about Max, but I’m not sure if she remembers him. On some days, she doesn’t even remember me. I resolve to test the waters when I get home and see how she feels first. Armed with crackers and a giddy happiness, I turn up the volume of the music in my car, pull my shoulder-length blonde hair up in a ponytail, and then wrap my jacket tighter around me, shuddering. My car’s heater died a few weeks back, and I don’t have the money to fix it yet. I earn a good paycheck as a physical therapist, but paying for rent and a caretaker for my grandmother eats up most of it. Grams’s pension helps with her medical bills. Drumming my fingers on the wheel to the rhythm of the music, I drive away.

Thirty minutes later, I walk inside the house, and Ms. Adams, my grandma’s caretaker, greets me.

Thank God, you’re home.

What happened?

She’s not been herself the entire afternoon, and I haven’t managed to calm her down. You’re in for a rough evening. I honestly think it would be easier for you if she were in a home.

The muscles in my back tense, and I roll my shoulders. I found a senior home a few hours away from San Francisco that would be cheaper than a full-time caretaker, but putting her in a home would just break my heart.

No way. I’ll manage. Where is she?

In the backyard.

I’m going to her. I bought her favorite crackers. Thank you so much, Ms. Adams. Have a nice evening.

See you tomorrow, Emilia.

After Ms. Adams leaves, I walk outside. Our backyard is small but full of flowers and plants. The back of the house also has a porch painted in dark green, with a couch and a swing. Grams is sitting on the couch, a vacant expression on her face. She snaps her head in my direction, leaping to her feet when she sees me. My grandmother is sixty-one, but her body is still sharp and quick. She always used to say, Age is just a number. And it ain’t catching up with me. Her silver hair frames her heart-shaped face.

Violet, you’re home, she exclaims.

I blink back tears. Violet was my mother’s name, but I’ve learned it’s best not to correct Grams; it just makes her confused and anxious. Grams loved my mama dearly, even though she was just her daughter-in-law. Mom got pregnant with me at sixteen. Her own parents kicked her out of the house so Grams, my dad’s mother who was a widow, took her in, and the three of us lived with her. Then after mama’s funeral, my asshole of a father decided parenthood wasn’t for him and disappeared off the face of the earth. Never saw him again. It’s just been Grams and me ever since.

Holding up the package, I say, Brought you crackers. 

She tsk-tsks, shaking her head. Don’t come home so late again tomorrow. You know what they say about girls who come home late, and I won’t have anyone speak ill about my daughter-in-law.

I press my lips together, hating that my eyes are stinging with tears. I rack my brain, trying to come up with a way to bring Grams back to present day without upsetting her, when she surprises me.

This house is beautiful, Emilia, darling. I’m so happy we found it.

Me too. I like our yard the best. It’s so peaceful.

Grams doesn’t say anything for long, painful minutes, and when she speaks again, she shatters me anew. I received a call from your principal today. He said you got into trouble again at school.

A knot forms in my throat. There she is, slipping away from me again. Sometimes she mixes up people, sometimes time periods. It’s an emotional roller coaster.

Let’s have dinner, okay? I ask in a strangled voice.

I finally coax her into eating dinner, and afterward she showers. Just before she gets in her bed, I comb her hair, the way she did for me while I was growing up. The worst thing about her illness is that it’s episodic. Some days she’s her old self, some days she’s unrecognizable. After she goes to sleep, I pour myself a glass of wine and go out in the backyard, stretching on the bench. As I sip from my drink, my phone vibrates with an incoming message from Evelyn. She’s my other best friend, and she also works at the clinic. She’s not a physical therapist, but a psychotherapist. Some of our patients need that therapy in addition to the physical one, especially if they suffered grave injuries, or their careers have come to a halt—as is the case for professional sportsmen.

Evelyn: A friend of my sister’s says she might be interested in buying your wedding dress. I gave her your number.

Oh. Something painful twists in my chest at her words. This is a good thing, I tell myself. I need to get rid of it, and God knows I can use all the money in the world.

Emilia: Thanks.

Evelyn: You can celebrate getting rid of it by starting to date already. You know what they’re saying about plenty of fish being in the sea. 

This reminds me of joke I read recently. Chuckling, I type back.

Emilia: Yeah, and I live in the desert. I’m getting used to the idea of lifelong celibacy. I’ll buy some cats. 

I love my life. Some days it’s hard, some days it’s downright painful, but what the heck? I have two great friends, my Grams, and this piece of heaven I can call home. And I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch, but the childhood friend I’ve missed like crazy for years might just pop up in my life again. If that’s not a sign of great luck, I don’t know what is.

As I fiddle with my phone, I notice a message from Abby.

Abby: I shifted one of your patients to someone else. Max Bennett is all yours.

Giggling, I take a sip of my wine. I might be taking a lifelong break from dating men, but reuniting with my old best friend couldn’t have happened at a better time.

Chapter Three

Emilia

My first appointment with Max is Monday of the following week. I pace up and down one of the training rooms, looking over his file for the hundredth time. He has a posterior cruciate ligament injury, a slight tear. He didn’t need surgery or require crutches, but he needs a rigorous therapy to get that ligament back in shape. I’ll make sure he’ll be able to kick anyone’s ass by the time our sessions are done.

The three other therapists in the room smile at me encouragingly, concentrating on their own patients. The clinic has ten such training rooms, and up to five patients and their individual therapists can be in one room at a time. I wish Max and I could be alone so we can catch up, but that will remain wishful thinking for today. My stomach is in knots as I glance up at the clock. Two minutes left.

I first met Max when I was nine years old. Mom had died, and Grams and I moved a few houses away from the Bennetts. I went to the same school as the Bennett kids and quickly became somewhat of an outcast, which was entirely my fault. I was shy, awkward, and grieving. Since I had buried my mother, I had retreated into a shell. Max pulled me out of it. When Grams and I moved to Montana four years later, I was devastated.

I glance at the clock again before returning to the file, sighing. One minute left. My palms are sweaty, and I wipe them on my pants, but the fabric of the spandex training gear isn’t absorbing anything.

When I hear the door of the room open, I snap my head up from my file. Max and Kurt, the head of the clinic, are in the doorway. Kurt is talking, but Max isn’t listening. His eyes are fixed on me, and his face breaks into a smile, instantly transporting me back to the day when he offered me his first smile. 

With hurried footsteps, I walk toward them, inspecting Max from head to toe. The last time I saw him, he was thirteen years old, and a whole head taller than me. Now he towers over me. I’ve inherited Grams’s petite frame, sure, but Max must be at least six feet and he’s just... magnificent. Broad shoulders and strong arms. His dark brown hair is tousled and sticking out in every direction. His face is a mix of panty-dropping masculinity with a dash of that boyish charm I remember about him. Max Bennett is all man.

I stop less than a foot in front of him and Kurt. Max pins me with his gaze and his smile deepens. Oh God, I forgot about those dimples.

As far as I understand, no introductions are needed, since Abby said you already know each other, Kurt says. I open my mouth but find my throat too clogged with emotion to form words.

We do, Max says, and his voice doesn’t sound quite right. It’s deep and strong, with just a slight hint of nervousness. She used to be my best friend.

Well, I’ll leave the two of you, Kurt says. Emilia will take good care of you.

Of course, I will, I say, having found my voice again. Kurt nods at both of us before leaving.

The second the door closes, Max pulls me into a hug. I walk into his arms without hesitation, even though there are six other people in the training room. He hugs the same way I remember—wholeheartedly. But then again, there weren’t many things Max the boy did halfheartedly, and I can’t imagine Max the man to be any different.

I can’t believe this, he murmurs against my hair. I always wondered about you. Where you were, what you were doing. I wanted to look for you, but I didn’t know where to start. He rubs his hand up and down my back, sending sparks of warmth down my spine.

Pulling out of his arms, I say, I, on the other hand, knew where you were all this time. I moved to San Francisco when I started college, but I didn’t know how to reach out.

Ah, it’s a good thing I was a blithering idiot then and had the accident, he exclaims. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. Gives a whole new meaning to everything happens for a reason, right?

I smile at him, surprised to learn that he kept his self-deprecating humor. Reading in magazines about his family’s success always did make me wonder if he’d changed or if he’d become more arrogant. So far, it seems not. I wonder how his siblings turned out. There are nine in total. Sebastian, Logan, and Pippa were the older trio, and as far as I understood, they set up Bennett Enterprises—one of the biggest players in the jewelry market. Max and his identical twin brother, Christopher, also work at the company, but I don’t know what the other siblings are up to: Alice, Blake, Daniel, and Summer. Can’t wait for Max to fill me in.

How did you manage to get yourself into that mess?

If I make up a heroic reason, will you believe me?

I burst out laughing. He cemented his status as my hero one lousy, rainy day after school. We were walking home when we heard howling. After sloshing around in the mud for a few minutes, we located the dogs. They were on the edge of the road, next to a ditch. I counted four pups and what looked like their dead mother. The pups desperately tried to get a reaction from her, pushing their little heads against her belly, and one of them licking her nose. I felt such an instant kinship with the pups who’d lost their mother that I couldn’t bear leaving them to fend for themselves. As Max and I bent to lift them, we noticed a fifth pup. He’d fallen into the ditch, which was very deep and narrow. Without hesitation, Max jumped inside it, pulling up the pup. It then took him nearly twenty minutes to get himself out. Grams and his mother, Jenna Bennett, nearly went into cardiac arrest when we returned home with five pups and covered in mud. I hero-worshiped him from that day on.

I know you can be a hero, all right. But the skydiving accident is in your file.

He groans, then tugs with his teeth at his lower lip, and I can’t help admiring his lush mouth. Had his lips always been this full? And why, in the name of all that is holy, am I having these thoughts? The training room suddenly feels too small, as does the distance between us.

I never took you for the skydiving type, I continue.

I’m not. Just made a bet with Blake. I was flying with a trainer and still managed to crash land.

At the mention of his younger brother, I can’t help grinning.

Damn, I have so many questions for you, I don’t know how to get them out fast enough, he says.

Pretty much describing my current dilemma. I hold up a finger. "But, we need to start with the session. Kurt warned me that I should keep the relationship professional during our sessions."

Max cocks an eyebrow. What did he think I’d do? Jump your bones the moment I saw you?

Heat rushes to my cheeks at his words, and I lower my gaze, suddenly flustered. Thank heavens we’re far enough from the others that they can’t hear us.

I see you still put your foot in your mouth every chance you get, I inform him. 

I do, but that came out wrong. I didn’t mean there’s anything wrong with jumping your bones. In fact, you filled out beautifully, Jonesie. He grins at the use of the nickname his brother Blake gave

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